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Adjusting inner margin (gutter) width in PDFs intended for bound printing

As a small publisher, I provide authors not only with an outlet for the print publishing of their work. I also provide additional services in editing their manuscript, designing page-spreads, and all the other little jobs involved with producing a print-ready book.

But sometimes I receive from an author a print-ready PDF that they have already laid out in their own preferred native text editor, such as MS Word, or something more obscure, such as Davka Writer, usually in the dimension of a letter (8.5 × 11 inches). These text editors are sufficient for preparing reports on looseleaf paper, but aren’t really designed to help authors see their work printed in a book open to a page spread. In an open book, the inner margins of the even and odd numbered pages of a page-spread divide what is called the gutter. If the inner margins are treated just as they often are on looseleaf with equal margins, then text is liable to fall into the gutter making it hard to read and even harder to copy or scan.

I sought without success for instructions on how to modify the gutter width, to adjust the inner margins of pages in a PDF so that they may be printed properly. So I had to figure it out myself. This is the solution I’ve devised for use with Adobe Acrobat Professional.

1. In the crop tool, increase the page width to 9 × 11 inches, with the “center” box checked. If Acrobat adds an offset value, move that back to 0. Select All Pages. Click OK. Page width for all pages should now be 9 × 11 inches.

2. Again, in the crop tool, crop 0.5 inches from left. Select all odd or all even pages depending on whether your book is designed to open from the left or from the right. (Do this for all even pages if your book opens left-to-right as with most books printed in English. Do this for all odd pages if your book opens right-to-left as with most books printed in Hebrew.)

3. Again, in the crop tool, crop 0.5 inches from right. Select all odd or all even pages depending on whether your book is designed to open from the left or from the right. (Do this for all even pages if your book opens left-to-right as with most books printed in English. Do this for all even pages if your book opens right-to-left as with most books printed in Hebrew.)

Your book should now be adjusted properly so that text doesn’t fall into the gutter.

There may be other solutions out there and I’d like to hear them so if you know of any other solution, please leave it in the comments.

About Aharon N. Varady


Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

3 comments to Adjusting inner margin (gutter) width in PDFs intended for bound printing

  • Mike Frenette

    Hi Aharon. Thanks very much for posting it. It came very close to working for me. But the right hand pages were just a tiny tiny bit overflowing the margin by a small part of a letter, usually the letter “f”. I tried to adjust each line this happened on by inserting a space to cause, say, the word “of” to go to the next line. But this just caused issues in other places. It seems like I should be able to adjust one of the parameters you outline in your article by a tiny amount to fix this, but I cannot figure out how to do that. Also, the offset amount you mentioned was set by Adobe, and I was not able to reset it to zero. This could be part of the issue as well.

    Your thoughts?

  • Were you able to get a reasonable inner margin? I ask because, I confess, I don’t know. I think I’ve done this a few more times since I wrote this and ignored the center/offset option and come out alright. I hate to say, just futz around with it until it works, but that’s what I usually do. If you figure it out, please come back and let me know.

  • Ruth Ready

    This is awesome. I had spent hours trying to figure out how to resolve this issue using Cute PDF Professional. With just a few tweaks, your method works perfectly. Thanks so much for posting.

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